ST. LOUIS – The Blackhawks have played a few of these Game 7s in the past.
In every case over the past five years they forced the Game 7, winning late in a series to erase a deficit. They’ve had momentum entering each one. And on Sunday, prior to departing for St. Louis, the Blackhawks liked where they were entering this Game 7, too.
“Well, I think we wanted to get ourselves in this spot,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We put ourselves in an awful spot a little while ago. [Now] we put ourselves exactly where we want to be. We’ve got momentum; we’ve got to be excited about this challenge.”
There’s never a doubt about the excitement level. Hockey Game 7s just bring that out of every team, whether it’s the one that had the series lead or not. But does the team entering with momentum have the Game 7 edge, especially if that team has several players who have been through this before? Or with the series squared and with both squads facing elimination, is there such thing as having an edge?
“I think it helps to be there and have that experience,” said Marian Hossa, who’s played in six Game 7s since the 2008-09 season. “But again [it’s] starting 0-0, so it could go either way. Maybe in certain times you can use that experience.”
The Blackhawks certainly have been here before, playing in four previous Game 7s under Quenneville. They lost in overtime in Vancouver in the 2011 Western Conference quarterfinals, beat the Detroit Red Wings in overtime in the 2013 conference semifinals, fell to Los Angeles in overtime of the 2014 conference final and beat Anaheim in last year’s conference final.
So it’s been mixed results. Outside of last year’s game against the Ducks, in which the Blackhawks built a big lead early, every game has been tightly contested. The Blackhawks expect the same close game tomorrow against the Blues.
The Blackhawks came back from a 3-1 hole in this series to force Game 7. They have enough guys on this team who know winning Game 7s means playing the right way, keeping calm in anxious situations and getting something from everyone.
Having one other element doesn’t hurt, either.
“I think you have to have mental toughness,” Duncan Keith said. “I mean, I don’t think we really analyze things too much or try to measure certain things. But we’re just out there playing and we know that when we’re down 3-1 we’re in a situation where we’ve got nothing to lose. We were down 3-1 and we found a way to do it in Game 5, and then last night I thought we played a good game and had a lot of composure being down 3-1 in the game at one point. So it’s just kind of sticking with it.”
The Blackhawks clawed their way back into this first-round series. The Blues have been a formidable opponent, and they’ll be hungry to dispatch their division foe on their home ice. Can the Blackhawks eke out one more? They’ve been here, done this before, and they’re looking to do it again.
“We put ourselves in a tremendous spot. Have fun with it, play the way we did the last couple of games,” Quenneville said. “We keep getting better, and that’s what we’re looking for.”